Category: Philosophy

How to Rebel Against the New Barbarism

We might be entering a new Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were a contest between the Catholic Church and barbarism. The Church won. That’s not what’s happening in the new Middle Ages. Here’s how to deal with the new barbarism.

Russian mystic and philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948) spoke about our world entering a new kind of Middle Ages.

Two elements battled for supremacy in the Middle Ages: barbarism and the Catholic Church. The Church won.

In the new Middle Ages, will the Chuch reassert itself . . . or will barbarism come back?

If barbarism, it will be much worse than the old barbarism. The post-modern barbarism will be, in the words of Berdyaev’s younger contemporary Henri de Lubac, “centralized, technically efficient and inhuman.”

De Lubac wrote those words in 1944. Since that time, it has become pretty clear that our world is reverting to barbarism, not the Church.

The Church has lost a lot of ground over the past 75 years, fighting waves of enemies from within and without, losing credibility with anyone who finds it unsettling for erstwhile celibates to sodomize emotionally vulnerable 14-year-olds, plus suffering the lowest of plights — getting kicked while down — as western institutions, from the New York Times to the universities to Hollywood, gleefully kick at the Body.

So, barbarism it is.

And it’s a “centralized, technically efficient and inhuman” one at that, as the … Read the rest

Seeking Transcendentals

Why Did I Order a Two-Volume History of Economic Thought?

Fun, improvement, and volunteerism. That’s how we might use current catchwords to answer the primordial question, “How ought we to live our lives?”

That question hit me hard a few summers ago when I opened up a mail package that contained Murray Rothbard’s two-volume set, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. “Am I really going to read these 1,000 pages?” I asked myself. “Why? How much time will it take?”

Every pursuit has an opportunity cost. That’s one reason wise men don’t become obsessed with things like golf, gardening, and fantasy football. “If I obsess on D, I forego A, B, C.”

And if A, B, and C consist of fun things, self-improvement, and volunteerism, D takes on qualities of sin because D starts to hinder what philosophers and theologians refer to as the three “transcendentals”: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. “Fun” is our contemporary way of pursuing beauty, “self-improvement” the contemporary counterpart of truth, and “volunteerism” today’s goodness.

I’m aware that defining Beauty, Truth, and Goodness as “fun,” “self-improvement,” and “volunteerism” is imperfect, imprecise, a bit immature, and maybe even irreverent.

Still, when writing for a contemporary audience, I need to use contemporary terms. And in our culture, the word “Goodness” is never used earnestly, “Truth” is used to connote relativity, and “Beauty” is reserved for naked women. If I want … Read the rest

A Neologism for a 20th-Century Malady

Friedrich Hayek

True: Knowledge, by its nature, is decentralized. Knowledge informs, directs, and fuels action. Therefore, action ought to be decentralized.

False: Centralized government action presupposes that knowledge, by its nature, is centered in a few experts. Knowledge informs, directs, and fuels action. Therefore, action ought to be centralized in the government.

The false approach is now known as “Faucism,” named after Anthony Fauci, whose positions and statements during the pandemic are unravelling faster a stripper’s clothes in front of a wad of Benjamins. His lies and incompetence were obvious to many during the pandemic, but now they’re becoming obvious to everyone else. Hopefully, it will forever destroy Faucism.

The above is just a summary of this excellent essay by Barry Brownstein: Liberating Yourself from Faucism. Excerpt:


Most Faucists have never read Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” They do not know why the idea of allowing one man to determine policy is absurd: 

“The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”

“Our ignorance is sobering and boundless,” observed philosopher Karl Popper. Faucists don’t believe that about their beloved leader. Who else should decide, they proclaim, but our most learned expert? 

Popper continued with what could be a credo for individuals willing to … Read the rest

The Peasant Sentiment

The Greatest Game Ever Played is a true story about an unaccomplished young golfer, Francis Ouimet, at the turn of the century and how he beat the world’s top two golfers in an 18-hole playoff at the 1913 U.S. Open.

Francis’s goal to be a great golfer is juxtaposed against his father’s more mundane ideas. Mr. Ouimet is a hard-working immigrant from the old school. His attitude toward Francis’s ambitions is summed up by his words: “Being a man means knowing one’s place in the world and making peace with it” (quote isn’t exact). Although the movie is somewhat sympathetic to Mr. Ouimet, overall his thinking is portrayed as peasant-like: backward, old world, and as un-American as his foreign accent.

The movie portrays Francis’s struggle and eventual championship at the U.S. Open as the American way. His battle celebrates initiative (trying to be the best), democratic social leveling (crashing through barriers that surrounded the game at the turn of the century), and individualism (doing what he wants, even against his father’s wishes).… Read the rest

How to Raise a Sane Child

Rule Number One: Don’t be a Nominalist

My three-year-old son Jack received a menagerie of thirty-some plastic animals at Christmas to go with the dozen or so he already owned. He played with his “anmuls” constantly, carrying them around in different containers (wagon, bag, box, hat) and setting them up in odd places, like the piano.

One night he came running to me, terribly excited, saying I had to see a surprise in his room. It turns out that he and his big sister, Abbie (5), had put the animals on the dresser. But not in a haphazard fashion. In Jack’s awe-filled words: (the “r” is soft in Jack’s pronunciation): “See, yions, tigus, cheeeetahs! El’phants, then hippos. Dogs. See, yitto (i.e., “little”) anmuls then big anmuls, see!”

In short, Jack, with Abbie’s help, had arranged all the animals close together based on species and roughly in order of size. The elephants and hippos were first, followed by the various big cats, then horses and zebras and similar animals like deer and antelopes, then dogs.

It was riveting stuff for ol’ Jack.

Gilson and the Problem of Universals

By chance, I had just come upstairs after reading from Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience. I had been reading Chapter III, “The Road to Skepticism,” which deals with the problem of universals.… Read the rest

Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor Reveal Something Ironic about Our Modern World

Essences become meaningless in both a perfect and marred world.

In one of his last works before his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

The Dream

In this story, the narrator goes to another solar system and lands on a planet where the inhabitants are people just like us, but untainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden. They live, the narrator tells us:

“In the same paradise as that in which . . . our parents lived before they sinned.”

But the narrator, being a fallen man, corrupts the inhabitants:

“Like the germ of a plague infecting whole kingdoms, I corrupted them all.”

They then begin to act like us on earth. In the words of Russian literature professor Arthur Trace:

“They invent morality because now there was immorality; they make a virtue of shame, whereas before they had no need for shame; they invent the concept of honor because now there is such a thing as dishonor; they invent justice because now there is injustice; and they invent brotherhood and friendship because there is hatred.”

Arthur Trace, Furnace of Doubt (1988), 24.

In short, on the unfallen planet, there was no virtue or morality because there was no vice or immorality in contrast. There was no distinction between bad and good.

It was a morally-existentialist world: no essences; just existence.

I fear we’ve … Read the rest

If You Meet the Buddha, Kill Him

J.D. Salinger hit the jackpot in 1951. At age 32, he published The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about an alienated teenager named “Holden Caulfield,” and it became an immediate bestseller. He was a success.

But the novel met with considerable resistance from parents who thought it was subversive. Perhaps more cutting, the literature establishment didn’t take the work seriously and leveled pointed criticism at it. Salinger grew bitter at the criticism, so bitter that biographers say it drove him into his famed reclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire.

I’ve always found Salinger’s bitterness odd. It’s almost like, through the alienated character of Holden Caulfield, he scorned the offerings of modern culture, but then became disillusioned when success within that modern culture didn’t yield up happiness.

It was an illogical response given Holden Caulfield’s perspective on life. Holden wouldn’t have cared about the haughty literature establishment.

It was also the exact opposite of Albert Camus’ advice in his 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, for eternity. But Camus said Sisyphus is happy because he understands his fate and understands he can’t avoid it, so he ceases to expect that he’ll ever succeed in getting the rock over the top. In other words, he negates all hope. It’s frustrated hope that makes the punishment … Read the rest

The Revolt Against Essence

Getting to know the most popular philosophy of the 20th century

brown pagoda near body of water
Photo by Aron Visuals on Pexels.com

Consider these popular subjects from the twentieth century:

Zen

Jack Kerouac

J.D. Salinger novels

Forrest Gump.

Each of them is soaked in the philosophical school of existentialism. There are many other popular subjects that are either tinged with existentialism or downright soaked in it as well, ranging from Taoism to psychedelics to St. Therese of Lisieux to the postmodern philosophy of Michel Foucault.

All these things have proven popular to the western mind over the past 100 years. The question is, why?

I believe it’s because existentialism might be the best individual response to our cultural condition.

What is It?

Experts often disagree about the definition of existentialism, but in general, the term refers to a type of thought that emphasizes existence rather than essence. Here’s how Will Herberg put it in Four Existentialist Theologians: “[G]enerally we can describe thinking as existentialist if it makes existence rather than essence the starting point of its ontological reflections.”

From ancient Greece through modern philosophy, it was widely accepted that essence took priority over existence. The general idea: in order to know something exists, you need to know its essence. Therefore, essence is prior to existence.

Essences are those things that define a class of things. If you find that thing that distinguishes one class from another, you’ve found its … Read the rest